THE WEDDING SINGER
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Tuesday 23rd May, 2017
There is a trend among theatre-makers to turn a mediocre film into a stage musical (eg Legally Blonde) and this show sits firmly in that genre. Adam Sandler was the go-to guy for film comedy decades ago, mixing gross-out gags with sentiment. Without his forceful personality, the material struggles. Even with the show’s book written by Sandler collaborator Tim Herlihy (along with lyricist Chad Beguelin) the result is a mismatch of tones that don’t quite gel.
Jon Robyns appears as the cheese-for-hire performer of the title, compering weddings at the helm of his band, Simply Wed (best joke in the piece). Where Robyns comes into his own is when, jilted at the altar, he becomes embittered and viciously savages the happy couple at his next gig, in a heartfelt and funny outburst, a public indulgence of emotion – which is what weddings are, I suppose! Robyns also shines in duets with Cassie Compton who plays Julie, a waitress who crops up at the same weddings. Compton is in great form, blending pop vocals with musical theatre expressiveness.
Julie is engaged to yuppie go-getter Glen (Ray Quinn, enjoying himself as the selfish and soulless financier/fiance) but from the start it’s clear (it would be clear to a blind man on a galloping horse) that she and the wedding singer are meant to be together. There are stumbling blocks along the way, like the reappearance of runaway bride Linda (an energetic Hannah Jay-Allen) an unlikely leather-clad rock chick-cum-Donna Summer to Robyns’s clean-cut Huey Lewis persona.
Maplins escapee Ruth Madoc appears as Rosie, the wedding singer’s grandmother, for some of the broader comic moments, and there is decent support from Tara Verloop as Holly, Ashley Emerson as Sammy, and Samuel Holmes makes the most of the marginalised role of token gay George, who doesn’t get a subplot of his own.
The tunes, by Matthew Sklar, are serviceable if not memorable, with Chad Beguelin’s lyrics snappier than the dialogue. Director Nick Winston’s choreography evokes the 1980s, and is performed by a lively chorus. The show attempts to arouse nostalgia in its look and with its pop culture references; I would have liked to see more mullets and bigger hair though among Francis O’Connor’s costume designs.
A run-of-the-mill love story with no surprises is the underwhelming heart of this bright and colourful production. There is something of a reminder that materialism is not the way to go – but then you knew that already, I hope – but I don’t get engaged (ha!) with the characters or care about their lives. This is no reflection on the cast or the production values. I think the script needs to decide which way it’s going to go: larger-than-life laughs or sweetly sentimental rom-com. I feel as though it tries to deliver both but ends up delivering neither. An unhappy marriage of tones.